Richard Brodsky Commentary
NEW YORK, NY — June 17, 2019 — The leaders of the real estate industry are in shock over the newly enacted rent law reform. “I’m in shock. Many of us in our industry are in shock,” sayeth mogul James Wacht.
If there’s one thing he and his colleagues shouldn’t be suffering from, it’s shock. It takes a certain kind of blindness and a certain kind of arrogance to have missed the changes that have swept the state Capitol. What happened to the rent laws was predictable to anyone who was paying attention.
There’s more. In addition to suffering from shock, the moribund right is rolling out the kind of good old-fashioned Red-baiting that befits people stuck in the 1950s. New York Post columnist Steve Cuozzo blathers that Albany is “adhering to a socialistic concept of ‘affordable housing for all,’ which worked so well in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.”
Really? That’s all you got? It is actually possible to raise thoughtful concerns about the unintended consequences of the rent package. But to be shocked at what happened or to call it socialism is out of touch. Big time.
On the merits, there was a need to rebalance the scales. Over time, with vacancy decontrol, back-door rent increases, and wide-scale abusive behavior by landlords, there was a need for fundamental reform of the rent laws. Low- and middle-income people were being squeezed out with nowhere to go. New housing construction focused on the needs of Russian billionaires and the 1 percent for luxury housing. Something had to give.
What gave was the state Senate. There was an election last year. Both Democrats and Republicans who were friendly to big real estate got swept away. New faces and new minds marched into the Capitol and announced their plans.
Rather than accept the result, the titans of industry pretended the governor would save their bacon. “We thought the governor would help moderate some of the more ridiculous proposals,” So sayeth Jay Martin, representing some 4,000 building owners.
Didn’t happen. Gov. Andrew Cuomo was neatly sidelined by the Assembly and Senate leadership, and glumly announced he would sign whatever the Legislature sent him. That in itself is an earthquake. We are apparently entering an era where the two houses of the Legislature can work out policies between them and then send a bill to the governor for his signature or veto. That’s dangerous stuff.
For those still suffering from shock or reflexive Red-baiting, there are some things worth relearning: Elections have consequences. Not everyone can be bought off. You need lines of communication even with people you disagree with. Rent regulation is as American as apple pie. Governors matter a lot, but not always.
There is a real need for a thoughtful, engaged conservatism, and for a business community that can listen as well as talk, and for a Republican Party willing to address the real problems of real people. There’s not a lot on the horizon that engenders optimism on those fronts.
It gets really interesting if this is a harbinger of things to come. There is a long list of things that could benefit from reconsideration in the light of new realities in the Senate and Assembly. That isn’t to say that the new majorities will always get it right, or that the old guard will continue to bury its head in the sand. But things are different now.
The 2018 election was an explicit choice, a message from voters that the needs of average people were to be elevated above the power of special interests. The rent law uprising was a consequence of that election. The stated intention of the new forces is to repeat the new reality. Don’t let yourself be shocked if things are a lot different in upcoming days. Get used to it.
This Richard Brodsky Commentary was first published by TimesUnion on Sunday, June 16, 2019.
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Richard Brodsky is a former New York State Assembly member.